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Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger

Hartwig, Senger appeal dismissals

Larry Hartwig

Two former Saskatoon city police officers hope to convince a disciplinary hearing officer they had nothing to do with Neil Stonechild the night he went missing 15 years ago.

Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger were fired from the Saskatoon Police Service last November after a commission of inquiry found they had the aboriginal teenager in their cruiser the night he was last seen alive.

Brad Senger

The pair are appealing their dismissal at joint hearings under provisions of the Saskatchewan Police Act. The hearings will begin Wednesday.

Hearing officer Dirk Silversides will hear some new evidence beyond that which came out at the 2003-2004 commission of inquiry into Stonechild's 1990 freezing death, Senger's lawyer, Jay Watson, said.

There also may be new witnesses, Watson said.

"We certainly hope at the end of this process there will be no doubt that these officers had nothing to do with this matter," he said.

"He's looking forward to his chance to be vindicated," Watson said of his client.

Hartwig is also confident the procedure will clear his name, his lawyer, Chris Boychuk said.

The lawyer for the police service, Mitch Holash, said he expects the evidence to uphold Chief Russ Sabo's decision to fire the pair.

"We expect that there will be established on the balance of probabilities that these individuals, Mr. Hartwig and Mr. Senger, had custody of Mr. Stonechild on Nov. 24 and 25, 1990. That gives rise to many breaches of police duties," Holash said.

Lawyers for the two sides met before Silversides on Monday, just long enough to adjourn the matter until Wednesday, when the first of at least a dozen witnesses will take the stand.

The first witnesses will be Pat Pickard, the owner of a community group home where Stonechild was serving a youth sentence at the time of his death, and Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy.

Roy is a key witness, having said that he saw Stonechild in the back seat of a police car that stopped Roy the cold November night he and Stonechild got drunk and caused a disturbance at an apartment building.

Stonechild's frozen body was found five days later in the north industrial area of Saskatoon, bearing marks commissioner David Wright found were probably made by handcuffs.

Stonechild's death and the subsequent incomplete police investigation were the subject of the six-month-long inquiry that culminated with Wright's October 2004 report.

The chief of police decided soon after that Hartwig's and Senger's failure to disclose their contact with Stonechild the night he was last seen made them unsuitable for duty.

Much of the evidence to be heard during the appeal came out at the Stonechild inquiry. Lawyers for the two sides have agreed to submit as evidence about 100 pages of uncontested documents, such as police computer records, weather data and some medical information.

The hearings are expected to run through the month.


Former constables to fight dismissals

Former constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger will fight their dismissals from the Saskatoon Police Service during 15 days of joint appeal hearings in May.

"It would be very dangerous to run them separately because you could wind up with separate results. The facts are the same for both officers . . . the decision would have to be same for both," said Jay Watson, Senger's lawyer.

Police Chief Russ Sabo fired the pair in November after Justice David Wright concluded they had Neil Stonechild in their cruiser in the city's west side the night the Saulteaux youth was last seen alive. Stonechild's body was found five days later, on Nov. 29, 1990, in the north industrial area, bearing marks that were probably made by handcuffs, Wright found.

Stonechild's death and the subsequent, incomplete police investigation were the subject of the six-month-long inquiry that culminated with Wright's October report. Sabo found that Hartwig's and Senger's failure to disclose their contact with Stonechild the night he was last seen made them unsuitable for duty.

Regina lawyer Dirk Silversides will preside at the hearings, which begin May 2. Hartwig's and Senger's lawyers will be allowed to question each other's client, but will not be allowed to cross-examine them.

"We may question them as if they were our own witness," Watson said. Much of the evidence to be heard during the appeal was made public at the Stonechild inquiry, and some of it is likely to be presented as statements of facts agreed upon by all parties, said Prince Albert lawyer Mitchell Holash, who represents Sabo.


Police union stance widening rift: Joseph

Fourteen years after the death of Neil Stonechild, a public inquiry and the dismissal of two officers, the process of laying blame isn't over yet.

Veteran constables Brad Senger and Larry Hartwig are preparing to appeal their firings Friday by Chief Russell Sabo before a hearing officer -- a move that will keep the divisive case alive awhile longer.

Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice-chief Lawrence Joseph said divisions between police and Natives aren't new.

What's new is that aboriginal people finally have the ear of authorities, he said.

"It will be no more divisive than other things that have plagued the justice system in general," Joseph said of the appeal process. "We've had many, many reports regarding the First Nations people who were found frozen to death. If that's not divisive, I don't know how much worse this (appeal) is going to make it."

About a dozen supporters of constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger marched in front of the police station Friday, toting signs calling for Sabo to base his decision on evidence, not assumptions.

"What we need are cool heads to prevail," said retired officer Larry Lockwood. "We need to really sit down and digest the report. I've been doing this for two weeks and I have more questions than answers."

Lockwood believes the constable's claim that they didn't take Stonechild into custody the night he died.

"(Hartwig and Senger) were just two cops doing their duty. Unfortunately, it could have been me or anybody."

Joseph challenged the protesters to thoroughly read the report, which finds that Stonechild was in the officers' cruiser the night he died.

"It's unfortunate to see. . . . They shouldn't be out there just blindly supporting something that has plagued the Saskatoon Police Service."

Joseph called a suggestion of disbanding the police service "an interesting thought," but one that might not be necessary considering Sabo's firing of the constables.

The actions of the city police association, on the other hand, are widening divisions with aboriginals, Joseph said.

"The police union, as led by the present leadership, is very, very destructive and they continue to take the spotlight away from those of us who want to repair relationships with the Saskatoon Police Service and police services right across the country."

The association backs the two constables, maintaining that they didn't have time to find and arrest Stonechild the night he died.

Darren Winegarden, the lawyer for key inquiry witness Jason Roy, said his client wants the constables to face criminal charges.

In the meantime, Roy is pleased with their firings, he said.

"It's very satisfying for him."


Saskatoon officers fired in controversial death of native teen in 1990

SASKATOON (CP) - Two Saskatoon police officers at the centre of a controversy over the freezing death of an aboriginal teenager 14 years ago were fired Friday.

Constables Larry Hartwig and Bradley Senger had been on suspension with pay after an inquiry found that they had Neil Stonechild in their custody in the hours before his 1990 death.

Their fate has been a polarizing issue in Saskatoon since the inquiry report was released late last month.

Police Chief Russell Sabo said he doesn't believe the officers abandoned Stonechild in the deserted area where his body was found, but he based his decision on a careful review of the evidence he was allowed by the Police Act.

"Constables Hartwig and Senger are being dismissed for failing to diligently and promptly report or disclose or offer material evidence or information to appropriate officials that in November 1990, Neil Stonechild was in their custody, as was their duty to do so,'' Sabo told an afternoon news conference.

The Stonechild affair sparked outrage in the aboriginal community and has come to symbolize their strained relations with the police.


Two officers in Stonechild case lose jobs

SASKATOON - Saskatoon Police Chief Russell Sabo has dismissed two officers linked to the case of Neil Stonechild.

Constables Bradley Senger and Larry Hartwig were suspended two weeks ago, after the final report on the Stonechild Inquiry was released.

They were dismissed on Friday, immediately before the chief's announcement.

"Constables Hartwig and Singer are being dismissed for failing to diligently and promptly report or disclose or offer material evidence to appropriate authorities that in November 1990 Neil Stonechild was in their custody as was their duty to do so," Chief Sabo said.

In the inquiry report, Justice David Wright concluded that Senger and Hartwig had Stonechild in their custody the last night he was seen alive.

The aboriginal teen froze to death in November, 1990. His body was discovered in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon.

The two officers repeatedly denied any connection to Stonechild's death.

Chief Sabo said he had heard legal representation from the two officers within the last two days. He also consulted with lawyers on his options.

He emphasized that he made the decision to dismiss them based on evidence on which he is legally permitted to rely.

"Constables Hartwig and Senger are each unsuitable for police service by reason of their conduct," he said. Each officer has 30 days to request a hearing into the decision.

After their initial suspension two weeks, the police union threatened a mutiny in support of the two officers.

More than 200 members of the Saskatoon Police Association voted unanimously to support two constables.

Union president Stan Goertzen said the two officers have not been convicted of anything in a court of law, yet they are being portrayed as guilty.

But there has been pressure from First Nations and other community groups to discipline Senger and Hartwig for their role in Stonechild's death.

Wright concluded there was evidence Stonechild was in police custody the night he was last seen alive and that marks on his body were likely caused by handcuffs.

Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy, testified he saw Stonechild in the back of a police cruiser the night he disappeared. Roy said Stonechild was terrified, bleeding and pleading for his life.

Both Hartwig and Senger maintained in their testimony that they never saw the teenager that night.

Wright also found that police had done an inadequate job in their original investigation of Stonechild's death.

The case was largely forgotten by many for a decade, until two aboriginal men were found frozen to death in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon within one week in 2000. A third man survived and told a tale of being driven to the field by Saskatoon police officers and being left to find his way back to the city.

Wright also found that police had done an inadequate job in their original investigation of Stonechild's death.

The case was largely forgotten by many for a decade, until two aboriginal men were found frozen to death in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon within one week in 2000. A third man survived and told a tale of being driven to the field by Saskatoon police officers and being left to find his way back to the city.


Saskatoon fires police officers in Stonechild case

SASKATOON - Saskatoon's police force has fired two constables linked by an inquiry to the freezing death of an aboriginal teenager in 1990.

Constables Bradley Senger and Larry Hartwig were suspended two weeks ago, after the final report from an inquiry into Neil Stonechild's death was released.

They were dismissed on Friday, immediately before Saskatoon police Chief Russ Sabo announced the move.

"Constables Hartwig and Senger are being dismissed for failing to diligently and promptly report or disclose or offer material evidence to appropriate authorities that in November 1990 Neil Stonechild was in their custody as was their duty to do so," Sabo said at a news conference announcing their dismissal Friday afternoon.

In the inquiry report, Justice David Wright concluded that Senger and Hartwig had Stonechild, 17, in their custody the last night he was seen alive.

The aboriginal teen froze to death in November 1990, in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon.

The two officers repeatedly denied any connection to Stonechild's death.

Chief Sabo said he had heard legal representation from them within the last two days and consulted with lawyers on his options.

"Constables Hartwig and Senger are each unsuitable for police service by reason of their conduct," he said.

Each officer has 30 days to request a hearing into the decision.

After their initial suspension, the police union threatened a mutiny in support of the two officers. More than 200 members of the Saskatoon Police Association voted unanimously to support the two constables.

Union president Stan Goertzen said the officers have not been convicted of anything in a court of law, yet they are being portrayed as guilty.

But there has been pressure from First Nations and other community groups to discipline Senger and Hartwig for their role in Stonechild's death.

The inquiry concluded there was evidence Stonechild was in police custody the night he was last seen alive and that marks on his body were likely caused by handcuffs.

Stonechild's friend, Jason Roy, testified he saw Stonechild in the back of a police cruiser the night he disappeared. Roy said Stonechild was terrified, bleeding and pleading for his life.

Both Hartwig and Senger maintained in their testimony that they never saw the teenager that night.

The judge also found that police had done an inadequate job in their original investigation of Stonechild's death.

The case was largely forgotten by many for a decade, until two aboriginal men were found frozen to death in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon within one week in 2000. A third man survived and told a tale of being driven to the field by Saskatoon police officers and being left to find his way back to the city.


Warm welcome back for officers
Dozens of officers line hallways to greet Hartwig, Senger

The return of constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger to the Saskatoon police station Wednesday was met by more than 100 back-slapping officers lining the hallways to Chief Russell Sabo's boardroom in a show of support.

The constables met with Sabo in the aftermath of the release of the Stonechild inquiry report on Oct. 26.

The officers themselves, not the Saskatoon City Police Association, organized the demonstration, which was quiet and orderly, said association president Const. Stan Goertzen.

As the constables walked past, other officers offered words of encouragement, like "I believe in you," Goertzen said.

"There was a great show of support by officers and some other community members and I'm hopeful (Sabo) takes it into consideration," said lawyer Jay Watson, who represents Senger.

Justice David Wright found that Hartwig and Senger took Neil Stonechild into custody around midnight on Nov. 24, 1990. Stonechild's body was later found in a field bearing marks that Wright found were likely caused by handcuffs.

Outside the station Wednesday, two dozen chilled civilian demonstrators, all Caucasian but one, offered their own show of support for the constables.

"We don't believe they had anything to do with jeopardizing Stonechild's life," said former police chaplain Rick Lane, who organized the protest with retired officer Larry Lockwood. "I think they arrived and (Stonechild) was gone on arrival. Period."

The constables are "stressed to the max," said Lane, who has spoken with both since they were suspended. "It's hard to not only face disciplinary action at work for something that you never did. It's even harder to watch your family go through that."

Hartwig's children have been harassed at school and both constables' spouses hear "negative comments" in public from people who know who they are, Lane said.

"Ever since I heard about it, it just doesn't seem right," said Rick Godbout, who booked a few hours off work to march with a sign reading, "Hartwig and Senger, scapegoats for Sask. Justice."

"I just don't see (Hartwig) doing what he's accused of," said Elvin Walter, who attends church with the officer. "I thought it was unfair."

Many of the demonstrators say Wright appears to have shaped the inquiry's evidence to suit his interpretation.

After spotting the demonstration while passing by on her bicycle, Michelle Michael came back later to begin a one-woman march of her own. With a paper heart affixed to her chest, signifying her own "broken heart" for Stonechild's family, Michael said she believes Wright's findings.

"I accept it because of all the other incidents, all the injustice that happens in Saskatoon," said Michael, an aboriginal single mom. "These people didn't suffer for nothing."


Memory lapses no defence for police officers

It was their improbable memory lapses, among other things, that implicated two Saskatoon police officers in the death of Neil Stonechild.

The aboriginal teenager died of exposure on a bitterly cold night in November 1990. A judicial inquiry into the case found that he was in the custody of constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger shortly before his death. Both officers are now suspended and are awaiting a disciplinary hearing. Both have consistently denied that they even saw Stonechild on the night in question.

Justice David Wright, who headed the inquiry, simply did not believe them. Rather, he found that the two officers lied to cover up their involvement with Stonechild. What helped convince Wright of the officers' dishonesty was their feigned forgetfulness.

That the two were looking for Stonechild that night is established by police dispatch records. Stonechild was drunk and creating a disturbance in a west-side apartment building. Then-partners Senger and Hartwig were dispatched to the scene in a squad car. They insist Stonechild was gone by the time they arrived and that they never found him. They further claimed to have no recollection of looking for Stonechild that night.

Wright found this manifestly unbelievable. A routine call, they might have forgotten, he conceded, but this was not routine. The youth's frozen body was discovered just four days after the call. That Hartwig and Senger were looking for him the night he died would have been critically important evidence in a suspicious death. The two officers could have helped reconstruct Stonechild's final hours. But both men insist they did not make the connection.

Wright didn't buy it. How could they have forgotten they were looking for someone who soon thereafter turned up dead?

It's not as if Neil Stonechild was just another name to the officers. Hartwig knew him from previous dealings. Hartwig conceded, too, that he'd have known about Stonechild's body being discovered. It would have been common knowledge among police. He later learned that at least one other officer was concerned about the shoddy investigation into Stonechild's death. Even so, he did not disclose that he'd been searching for Stonechild around the very time of his disappearance.

Hartwig's forgetfulness does not square with evidence of an otherwise excellent memory. He testified to taking pride in his memory. He was able to recall the specific words he'd used in an interview with RCMP three years earlier. It was only when he came to the Stonechild case that his memory seemed to fail him.

Another officer who'd dealt with Stonechild months earlier on an unrelated matter remembered all about it, Wright observed.

"If Cst. Hartwig had nothing to hide I would have expected no less of him."

Senger's simultaneous memory lapses were no less suspect. Like Hartwig, he made no apparent effort to assist officers investigating the Stonechild death. When almost anyone else would have announced, "Hey, that kid who died is the same one we were looking for the other night," Senger said nothing.

Why would he keep quiet? Why would he not share this vital information with investigating officers? Wright could only conclude that Senger was concealing his involvement with Stonechild.

Senger's credibility was further undermined by his admitted falsification of evidence in another, unrelated case. At the time, he was operating the breathalyser in a drunk driving case. He admitted to recording a false reading on one of two tests administered to a suspect who was later charged. Senger told the inquiry that he didn't know if the suspect was convicted. Had he been called to testify in court, he said he would have asked that the false record be withdrawn. Even so, Wright characterized this as a serious breach of duty that "casts a large shadow" on Senger's integrity.

Wright found that Hartwig and Senger had enough time to dump Stonechild on the edge of town. The officers had 27 minutes between the Stonechild dispatch and their next call. That's more than enough to drive from the west side to the city's northern outskirts and back.

Then there was the eyewitness, Jason Roy, who saw his friend Neil taken away, handcuffed and bleeding, in the back of a police car. Roy's evidence was flawed, but not fatally so. Wright found him to be not only credible, but commendable. For 14 years, in fear of his safety, he tried to find justice for his friend.

Finally, there is the question of motive. Lawyers for Hartwig and Senger insisted their clients had no reason to dump Stonechild at the edge of town. Rather, they'd have taken him to jail. This defence was scuttled by evidence that other city police officers have dumped prisoners at a remote location. From all indications, it was done as a convenient way of dealing with troublemakers.

Now it's police officers who find themselves in trouble.


Case (NOT) closed

Q. What time approx. did you last see Neil Stonechild alive on November 24, 1990?
A. Could be about 11:30 p.m.
Q. What condition was Neil in when you last saw him?
A. Pretty drunk. Well totally out of it.
Q. Is there anything else you wish to tell me?
A. No, that's all I can think of.
Q. Is this a true statement?
A. Yes.
--Statement of Jason Roy to Saskatoon Police Service Sergeant Keith Jarvis, Nov. 30, 1990.

The day after 17-year-old Neil Stonechild was found frozen, dead in an industrial park in the north end of Saskatoon, Jason Roy was weeks away from his seventeenth birthday. In his young life, Roy had accumulated a lengthy record of arrests for drug and alcohol use and had been in and out of state custody for years. Roy was arrested again, this November, for public drunkenness. But, as the last person known to have seen Stonechild alive, he would prove to be a vital witness in the 14-month, $2-million inquiry into the young man's death.

In the report from the inquiry, Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Matters Relating to the Death of Neil Stonechild, issued October 26, Justice David Wright would say of Roy: "I had ample opportunity to observe him during his testimony. He struck me as sincere and thoughtful and as still deeply affected by the death of his friend and what followed. While Roy's testimony contained errors and contradictions, this does not prevent me from finding credible his testimony relating to what he observed on the evening of November 24th and the morning of November 25th, 1990." Wright cited an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, upheld by the Supreme Court, that even when a witness offers "prior inconsistent statements," it is up to the judge to "accept all, some, or none" of the testimony.

But Roy's testimony at the Stonechild inquiry differed so dramatically from the account that he gave police the day after his friend was discovered dead, it has caused many to ask why Justice Wright considered any of it to be legitimate. Why would the judge trust Roy's version of events over two officers that retired police chaplain Rick Lane calls "two of the cleanest people in lifestyle and attitudes I've ever had the privilege of working with"?

Roy was the only one to tell the inquiry he witnessed contact between police and Stonechild that night. Saskatoon Police Services (SPS) constables Larry Hartwig and Bradley Senger claimed that, while they had been dispatched to find Neil Stonechild that night, as he had been reported to be causing a disturbance at the Snowberry Downs apartment complex, they never did manage to find him. But the judge went with Roy's version, refusing to believe the cops' account. The evidence, wrote Wright, indicated: "a) that Neil Stonechild was last seen in their custody at approximately 11:56 p.m. on November 24, 1990; b) that he died of cold exposure in a remote industrial area in the early hours of November 25, 1990; and c) that there were injuries and marks on his body that were consistent with handcuffs."

On Nov. 12, 2004, as a result of the findings, the suspicion and accusations that had dogged Hartwig and Senger for years culminated in their firing, by Saskatoon Police Chief Russell Sabo. The force veterans, with more than 30 years of service between them, were "unsuitable for police service by reason of their conduct," Sabo told reporters in announcing his decision, citing their failure to "diligently and promptly report" information or evidence to officials about Stonechild being in their custody.

But fellow police officers are crying foul. So are many Saskatchewan residents who quietly echo the opinion of retired Saskatoon constable Larry Lockwood, who demonstrated in front of the police station after the release of the report, with signs reading: "No justice for Hartwig and Senger," "Judicial McCarthyism at its worst" and "Appeasement is only temporary." In confidence, Saskatoon cops admit that, in addition to the empathy they have for their colleagues, they have become fearful that they, too, could just as easily be brought down by the testimony of someone like Roy, someone with a lengthy criminal record, a history of substance abuse and a testimony full of contradictions and fabrications. One native man, who spends his time on the streets and knew Stonechild, but asked not to be identified, says it's easy to blame police for things because "they can't fight back." Hartwig says that, far from finding the truth, the inquiry made him and his partner into targets. "We expected to be vindicated through the provincial inquiry," says Hartwig. "However, not all of the evidence was disclosed."

"We went and hung around circle park mall till around 6:30 & niel said lets go to my moms and get some money from his mom so went over there and niels mom wasn't home so I sold my goves [gloves] to [Stonechild's brother] Marcelle and he went & bought us a 40 ounce of Silent Sam [vodka]. we [went] over to juli's and drank the hole bottle straight just me & Neil. we were just sitting around talking about whatever and he said lets go find Lucille [an old girlfriend], so we started on our way to Snowberry Downs [apartment complex]. I don't remember how we got to seven-11. we stopped there and tried buying something but I don't remember if they sold me anything; we started walking over there and stopped on the boulevard and we were arguing but I don't [know]what about. and we got to one apartment, looked for Lucille's sister but it wasn't there so we checked other apartments for the last name Neetz. but we couldn't find it any where so we got to the last apartment and we were about to check it then I must have stopped him and we stood there and argued for what I don't [know] and he turned around and said f----in Jay and I looked around and blacked out and woke up at juli binnings."
--Jason Roy's Nov. 30, 1990, handwritten statement to police, detailing the events of the night he last saw Neil Stonechild alive.

The day after Stonechild's body was found, Roy gave that handwritten statement to police concerning what had happened the evening he last saw his young friend alive. In it, he said he had argued with Stonechild at the Snowberry Downs apartment complex, while the two of them, both drunk, were trying to locate a friend. Then, he said, the two went their separate ways. Apartment residents had called police to report two drunken men hitting buzzers at random and creating a disturbance. The two officers that were dispatched were Hartwig and Senger. The computer log of the two officers' activity that night establishes that they went to Snowberry Downs and, once there, entered three names into the police database: Neil Stonechild, Tracy Lee Horse and Bruce Genaille.

The two officers insist that while they called up Stonechild's sheet on their in-vehicle computer terminal after receiving the call in order to get a physical description, they were ultimately unable to locate him. They ran into a man who told them he was Horse and another man, Genaille. They stopped to question both, believing they might be the young man they were looking for. Roy told the inquiry that he was the one pretending to be Horse, fearful of giving his real name to police, given the fact that there was a warrant out for his arrest for breaching a condition of his release from custody. But in his statement to police the next day, he mentioned neither that confrontation, nor having seen his friend in the back of a squad car, bleeding and fearful.

If it hadn't been for one officer, Constable Ernie Louttit, who had taken a personal interest in the Stonechild case, and had taken the file home and, ultimately, forgotten about it, Roy's initial statement to police--and the vast contradictions between it and his testimony years later--would never have been known.

SPS Sergeant Keith Jarvis had been questioning Roy as part of his own investigation into the mysterious death of the handsome and popular Cree teen. By all accounts--including the Police Associa-tion's--that investigation was inadequate. The provincial coroner, who also had the ability to call an inquest, chose not to. Because there was no evidence of foul play, the police file was destroyed sometime, years later, in one of the police force's regular purges of old files.

Over the next 10 years, five native men turned up dead, frozen, in remote parts of the city. In 2000, when Darryl Night, a Cree Indian, came forward claiming that he had been dropped off near the city limits by two police constables, Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson, public outrage over accusations that cops might be abandoning natives in the cold, led the province to order the RCMP to investigate the spate of freezing deaths. But that effort was unable to solve the mystery behind Stonechild's death. It wasn't until the RCMP investigation in 2000 that records show that Roy started telling authorities about a police car.

Q. It [your statement to Saskatoon police] goes on to say, "We stopped there [at 7-Eleven] and tried buying something." Now, did that happen or not?
A. No.
Q. Any reason why you made that up?
A. We had no money.
Q. Yeah, but why would you lie to the police about that?
A. I don't know.
--Jason Roy's testimony, under cross-examination by Saskatoon City Police Association lawyer Drew Plaxton at the Stonechild Inquiry.

In February 2003, then Saskatchewan minister of justice Eric Cline established a judicial commission, headed by Wright, to inquire into Stonechild's death and the investigations carried out by the SPS and RCMP. The inquiry was thorough, with more than 60 witnesses called in total. But, the most critical testimony, perhaps, was that of Roy.

Even now, Roy's stories are rife with inconsistencies. As Aaron Fox, Hartwig's lawyer, argued in his final submission, a friend of the two boys, Cheryl Antoine, who had been at Julie Binning's residence when Roy returned there in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 1990, testified that Roy said he "thought" he may have seen Neil in the back of a police car, but did not mention any injuries. To Antoine's knowledge, when Stonechild's mother, Stella Bignell, contacted Roy after her son's disappearance, Roy didn't tell her that he had seen Stonechild in the back of a police car, nor did Antoine.

Binning recalls Roy saying, upon his return to her home without Stonechild, simply that "he had lost Neil. He had--he just lost Neil on the way back." When they asked him how, she recalls Roy saying, "He might have been picked up by the police." They all stayed up a few more hours playing cards, she says, but Roy seemed not at all upset. He also admitted to Binning that night that he was really drunk and wasn't sure about what happened. After his friend's body was found, he told the inquiry that he never told the family about the police car out of respect for their grieving, and when he called police to report that he had been with Stonechild the night of his death, he again failed to mention anything about it.

Genaille, who was, according to computer logs, stopped by Hartwig and Senger after they were dispatched to find Stonechild, told the inquiry that he remembered the two officers asking him if he was Stonechild (in fact, he happens to be his cousin). They asked Genaille about a disturbance at a 7-Eleven store, not Snowberry Downs, he says. He waited five to 10 minutes while the cops ran his name through the computer, and he saw no one was in the back seat.

At the inquiry, however, Roy said he was certain he saw Stonechild in the back seat and that he had been "freaking out." He told RCMP investigators before that, that he had been "scared s--tless" by the sight. As Fox argued, "The statements attributed to Roy, his demeanour and conduct are all inconsistent with his having seen Neil in the back of a police car, bleeding and screaming for his life."

So how is it that, rather than deteriorating over the course of more than a decade, the recollection of a man who has been in substance-abuse treatment several times during that period has actually improved over time? He had help.

A year after the investigation by the Saskatoon police, Roy was put under hypnosis to help him recall what had happened the night he last saw Stonechild. Therapist Brenda Valiaho conducted a "visualization exercise" with Roy, and it was in that session, for the first time, that Roy remembered seeing Stonechild in the back of the police car. Memory experts Dr. John Yuille and Dr. Jim Arnold testified at the inquiry, however, that these kinds of recovered memories are frequently unreliable, as people's recollections are altered by beliefs, assumptions and outside pressures. That can eventually lead to a belief in a certain set of facts that, although honestly held, is not accurate. In other words, after the hypnosis, the subject himself may be convinced that something happened even when it did not. (Psychological studies show it isn't hard to implant false memories. In 2002, when two snipers were shooting people around the Washington, D.C., area, dozens of witnesses recalled seeing a white van. The snipers, it later turned out, were driving a dark sedan. Psychologists say the false memories were inadvertently planted by police during witness questioning.)

Q. "I looked around and blacked out, and woke up at Julie Binning's." That's what you told the police, right?
A. Yes.
Q. And there's nothing-you didn't see Neil anywhere in that statement. You last saw him at Snowberry Downs looking for his old girlfriend; right?
A. Yes.
Q. You told the police you passed out and woke up the next morning at Binnings'; right?
A. At this--at this--on this statement, yes, that's what I said.
Q. Okay, now, is that accurate or not?
A. No.
Q. Why did you lie to the police about that?
A. I was scared.
--Jason Roy, under cross-examination by Saskatoon City Police Association lawyer Drew Plaxton at the Stonechild Inquiry.

When RCMP officers asked Roy why he had not reported the police car following the death of his friend, he claimed he had told SPS about it, though his written statement indicates that to be untrue. Then, at the inquiry, Roy changed his story again, claiming he had been afraid to implicate police because, at the time of the death, he too had been on the run from a community home. Upon being questioned by Fox, Roy could not name the facility he was allegedly missing from, and there is no record of Roy being in any community home in the fall of 1990.

After Roy began recounting the story of the police car, he provided several friends a detailed description of the driver of the police car, describing him as well over six feet tall, with a moustache, curly hair and pop-bottle glasses. Commission counsel confirmed Roy's description of the officers with him in advance of the inquiry. Hartwig or Senger are both about five feet eight inches, have never worn moustaches, and neither wear glasses nor contacts. Once his testimony at the inquiry began, Roy changed his story and said he could not recall a physical description of the driver of the police car.

How credible was Roy's testimony, given the pattern of inconsistencies, errors and lies? Wright concludes that the cause of so much deceit can only have been caused by one thing: a hesitation to point the finger at the police force. "When called upon to provide a written statement of the events, [Roy] stopped short of implicating the Saskatoon Police Service," wrote Wright in the report on the inquiry. "His statement that he 'blacked out' was a convenient excuse not to reduce to writing the most important events of that night. Whether his decision was prompted by fear or an unwillingness to be involved any further with the police, matters not." The possibility that Roy's wildly varied accounts may have been because he was unsure of what he saw that night, or had imagined things, or lied, did not seem, to Wright, to be a possibility. "What is central to this whole question . . . is the plain proposition that [Roy] told the investigating [RCMP] officer the whole story," the judge wrote, adding that it was a proposition "supported by other evidence."

As I reviewed the evidence in this Inquiry, I was reminded, again and again, of the chasm that separates aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in this city and province. Our two communities do not know each other and do not seem to want to.
--Final Comments of Justice David Wright, report on the Stonechild Inquiry.

If one police officer was the exception to the cultural gap between aboriginals and non-aboriginals, says Melvin McGhee, an aboriginal social worker, it was Larry Hartwig. "Larry's firing was a great loss to the aboriginal community; he was an ally," he says. McGhee has dedicated his career to helping rehabilitate troubled youth, reintegrating them into society. Once, when McGhee himself was charged after assaulting a non-aboriginal, he says he was fearful his career was over. But Hartwig, he says, "saw beyond the fact that I'm a 280-pound aboriginal ex-wrestler and got to the facts. He was nothing but respectful, with a great knowledge of the First Nations' culture."

For most of his 17 years on the force, Hartwig worked the west side of Saskatoon, with its large native population, and every year worked on an anonymous charity bringing food to the poor. "It's good for a cop who so often sees the tragic side of life to have a little kid pull on your pant leg and say, 'Mister, are you an angel?'" says Hartwig.

On the night of November 24, Hartwig and Senger, who used to be a psychiatric nurse, were paired together for the first time. Off the record, many cops say that if they were going to do anything unorthodox--let alone commit murder--they would ensure they had a partner they were certain they could trust, not one they had been with for just a few hours.

McGhee says that if anything is to blame for rising tensions between police and natives, it's the unfair portrayals of Hartwig and Senger perpetuated by the Saskatoon media and reaffirmed by the inquiry. "I believe with all my heart that Larry and Brad have been hung out to dry," he says. "They were scapegoats for this tragedy. The justice system should stand beside them and find the facts; instead they are breaking down the bridges between the aboriginal and police communities that were starting to build."

Pat Pickard describes herself as the "last straight--as opposed to street--person to talk to Neil" the night he went missing. Pickard ran a group home, from which Stonechild was missing. He called her on Nov. 24, 1990, just before he went out drinking with friends, to assure her he would be back the next day to turn himself in. She tried to convince him to come back immediately, but he refused. Pickard says she believes Roy's testimony about the squad car. But, she adds, although she was frustrated by the testimony of many police officers at the inquiry, many of whom said they could not remember much about that night 14 years ago and had lost their notes, she does not think that there is enough evidence to support the claim that Hartwig and Senger were involved in Stonechild's death. "There was no concrete evidence that they dumped him--no DNA, no one except Jason [Roy] saying he was in the car, and he couldn't even identify the cops," she says. The officers' car was never checked for blood, but coroners found no evidence of any blood on Stonechild's clothing. "One side of my brain says we're finally doing something about the rotten apples on the police force, but the other side says that if it had been two native people [accused of this] instead of police, there would be a big outcry for proof," says Pickard. "I'd like to say, 'Hurray, they're guilty, do something with them,' [but] we need to be very sure that we bring the right people to justice."

After the horrific discovery of Stonechild, an acquaintance of his paid a visit to his mother, Stella Bignell. Rumours had been swirling around the native community that the man responsible for her son's death was that man, Gary Pratt. Pratt had come to assure Bignell that the rumours weren't true and that he had nothing to do with her son freezing to death. But even today, word on the street is that a feud between Stonechild and the Pratt family had been simmering since September 1990, two months before Stonechild's disappearance.

Stonechild had been at a party, at which Pratt got into a terrible melee with several others. At the time, Pratt was at large from recognizance related to a charge of assault on his mother. The party's host, Eddie Rushton, had, according to Pratt, shot at him, and he fled.

Q. And can you tell us what took place, then, when you returned?
A. When we returned we had went through the back door and at the back door there was an axe and Randy Lafond had grabbed the axe and as we went in the back door Eddie--deceased Eddie Rushton and Pat Caisse were coming up from the root cellar where the guns were and Randy chopped-well, hit Eddie in the head with the axe and knocked him into the basement again and they went down there and, I don't know, it was just total chaos and mayhem and--
Q. Was Neil still at the house at that time?
A. Yes, he was.
--Gary Pratt, under cross-examination by Saskatoon City Police Association lawyer Drew Plaxton at the Stonechild Inquiry

After Pratt and his gang returned and had beaten up Rushton, Pratt's brother, Errol, threatened aloud anyone who would consider reporting the incident to police. Gary Pratt testified that he heard his brother shout something along the lines of: "You don't see anything here or you don't know anything, or you don't tell anything to anyone or you're dead."

In the fall of 1990, Stonechild and another man at the party, Pat Caisse, were in fact compelled to attend court to testify against Gary Pratt. In the end, their testimony was not needed: after several other witnesses refused to testify, the Crown stayed the charges.

Justice Wright notes in his report on the inquiry that there were no witnesses to put Pratt and Stonechild together on the night of Nov. 24, 1990, and there was no evidence that Stonechild was beaten up. But a friend of Stonechild's older brother Marcel, told the Western Standard that the "street word" at the time was that either Pratt or associates of his had taken Stonechild out to the industrial area. Instead of beating him, they left him in the middle of nowhere, in -28C weather, where he died. "The people on the street, they know, they see everything," says the source, a 34-year-old native man who asked not to be identified. "Even today, if you go on the street, you'll find half the guys say Gary Pratt did it, but nobody wants to rat to the police. It's like an oath."

After the body was found, continues the source, "the whole Pratt family disappeared; they used to be big mall rats." Several of Saskatoon's large native families, says the source, were convinced of Pratt's involvement and were planning to "go after" the Pratt family, he says. But Bignell stopped them, fearing a "big family war."

Retired SPS officer Lockwood reports that a few months after the brawl at the party, Eddie Rushton died under suspicious circumstances, of an allegedly "self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head," after friends say they had been playing Russian Roulette with him. Errol Pratt was murdered with a baseball bat by a member of one of the family. But the violence between Saskatoon's big native families goes a long way back. Several members of the larger clans had clashed in the mid-eighties in a battle for control of Saskatoon's prostitution racket, says Lockwood, what police call the "hooker wars" of 1985. Things got very violent, says Lockwood, and members of the Stonechilds and the Pratts were alleged to have been involved. "Two factions got into a turf war over prostitution territories," says Lockwood. "There was a big shootout at Baldwin Hotel, windows shot out of houses, and we had to detonate two bombs in the city planted next to houses associated with members of different prostitution rings." Lockwood says that, in his opinion as a street officer of 27 years, "if Stonechild's death was a murder-and I'm not convinced it was--I would look for connections going back to the family feuding of the hooker wars."

Louttit testified at the inquiry that a few days after Stonechild's body was found, his brother, Jason, told him that Neil had been killed by brothers Gary and Danny Pratt, "that he'd been picked up at a party when he was very drunk in the north end, somewhere up by the 7-Eleven, and that he'd been beaten up and then--and dumped off," Louttit recounted. Reading from his notes made at the time, the officer told the inquiry, "Neil was with an unknown female, or unidentified female, first name starts with 'F,' she witnessed Neil get in the [Pratt's] car, very loaded." Asked if he had received any information in 1990 or 1991 that Stonechild had been in a city police car on the night that he disappeared, Louttit replied that if he had, he would have pursued the matter to get to the bottom of it. "I have no problem arresting a police officer that's taken part in a crime," he told the inquiry.

For her part, Bignell denies the allegation that she stopped a "war between families," and says that Pratt and her son were friends who "had their differences," but they had been resolved. And while her lawyer, Donald Worme, told reporters that Bignell was pleased that police chief Sabo had fired Hartwig and Senger, Bignell says that's actually not how she feels. Bignell says that she is not happy with the outcome of the inquiry at all. She refuses to make the leap from Roy's fragmented recollection of seeing her son in a police car, to assuming that Hartwig and Senger must be responsible for his death. "I wanted the inquiry to find out who took my son out there," she says. "And yet after all this time, we still do not know. Justice was not served."

TAKING FORENSICS 'OUT OF THE REALM OF SCIENCE' AND MAKING IT 'CHILD'S PLAY'

Gary Robertson, the photogrammetrist, was hired to measure marks that were apparent in the post-mortem photographs of Stonechild's body and, later, to compare these measurements to the measurements of handcuffs used by the Saskatoon Police Service in 1990. As a result of the investigation, the RCMP identified two suspects: Cst. Lawrence Hartwig and Cst. Brad Senger.
-- Justice David Wright, Final report of the Commission of Inquiry Into Matters Relating to the Death of Neil Stonechild

After reviewing the evidence before him, Justice David Wright admits that only constables Larry Hartwig and Bradley Senger know what was in their minds on the night of Nov. 24, 1990. But, to him, the evidence established that three things had likely happened: that Neil Stonechild was last seen in the two officers' custody, close to midnight on November 24; that he died of cold exposure; and that the marks on his body looked like he had been restrained, and hit, with handcuffs.

Wright had only the erratic testimony of Jason Roy to indicate that Stonechild had been in the custody of the cops. And on close review, forensic experts say that the evidence suggesting that Stonechild had been hurt by handcuffs is just as unreliable.

A widely publicized post-mortem photo of Stonechild, featuring two lines across the bridge of his nose, certainly seems to suggest the 17-year-old native may have been whacked in the face by a pair of police-issue Peerless cuffs. The photo was presented to the inquiry with a pair of handcuffs digitally superimposed over Stonechild's face to help illustrate the consistency of the marks with the structure of the cuffs.

"The old Chinese proverb, 'a photo is worth 1,000 words,' or whatever it is, is actually false," the man behind that photo, RCMP expert and Calgary photogrammetrist Gary Robertson, told the inquiry during his testimony. "If you don't have any known dimensions in a photograph . . . I always say it's worth a million lies." (Photogrammetry is the science of taking measurements from photographs to make maps of landmasses).

Sage wisdom, says Dr. Emma Lew, deputy chief medical examiner and director of forensic pathology services in Miami-Dade county, Fla. And Robertson's own photo is a case in point. "In my career, I don't know any of my colleagues who have used a photogrammetric analyst to evaluate lesions on bodies," says Lew. She received her medical training at the University of Saskatchewan and studied four years of pathology and one year subspecialty training in a forensic pathology fellowship program. Lew, who estimates she has analyzed more than 5,000 human bodies in her career, believes that Robertson's handcuff theory was an irresponsible leap. "I'm speculating that Robertson said, 'Oh these two patterns look like handcuffs--they're parallel, linear, and look about the same distance--therefore they must have been made from handcuffs.'"

Robertson admitted, upon cross-examination by Police Association lawyer Drew Plaxton, that he had not properly indicated the correct scale of the cuffs to the marks on Stonechild's nose, even though the scale of photo of the cuffs imposed over Stonechild's face would fundamentally impact how accurately the two rails of the handcuffs would match the marks on the nose. At the same time, Robertson also confessed in the Oct. 20, 2003, questioning that he had lied on his resum, and he had not actually completed a course in photogrammetry, but rather had a diploma as a mapmaker's technician and that he had lied about completing any engineering courses at university. Robertson said he had never actually analyzed human skin before--only pigs. His work until the Stonechild case had been limited to measuring distances between things like cars and buildings. Plaxton also asked Robertson if he had used photo manipulation to delete part of the handcuff so it would match the injury more closely. Robertson admitted that he had digitally cut away part of the handcuff to achieve the photographic result.

Lew's analysis of the marks on Stonechild's hands led to her conclusion that they were definitely not made by handcuffs either, but by the cuffs of his jacket pulled over his hands to keep them warm (Stonechild was found with his sleeves pulled over his hands). The weight of his body on his hands underneath him impressed the fabric into his skin, much as sleeping imprints pyjama fabric. Dr. Valerie Rao, the chief medical examiner for the city of Columbia, Missouri, agrees that the wrist marks were not handcuffs. "I've been a forensic pathologist for 25 years. I have done many, many cases with handcuff imprints, I have analyzed living and deceased people who have handcuff marks, and Stonechild didn't have anything that resembled a handcuff."

Simplistic assumptions about what an injury on a body looks like, says Lew, ignore facts about what happens to corpses in the hours and days after death. "There would be grave miscarriages of justice all over the place if laypeople were able to pronounce that certain wounds were made in a certain way, simply because they look like it, without consideration of post-mortem artifacts, including drying of the tissues," Lew says. Such uninformed speculation has taken the "process out of the realm of science and simplified it into child's play." she says.

In July 2000, Jason Roy told the CBC that he witnessed Stonechild "in the back of the police car with his face cut open, bleeding." But Lew says that the cuts on Stonechild's nose were probably fairly superficial at the time of the injury, but had stretched and blackened as the young man's body froze and thawed and the tissue dried. Examining high-resolution enhanced photos of Stonechild's body, pathologists deduced that the marks were likely the result of walking through high bush in a nearby ravine or collapsing onto the densely packed ice and frozen twigs and weeds. The lack of blood on Stonechild's clothing also suggests that the wounds were minor.

But, Lew acknowledges, relying on medical science alone may not have been of much use to the inquiry. "I understand that there are other factors and other agendas involved here," she says.
--Candis McLean